Page last updated at 07:47 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

United States of Africa talks 'fudged'

By Mark Doyle
BBC News, Addis Ababa

A summit of African leaders met late into the night on the controversial topic of forming a closer union - a sort of United States of Africa. The result: Political fudge.

Col Gaddafi in Addis Ababa (02,02,09)
The colonel [Gadaffi] then appeared to admit defeat, my source said, and laid his head on the table in despair

The idea of a United States of Africa has the strong backing of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the new head of the African Union, who in recent years has spread his money and influence across Africa.

But a fast-track approach to creating the closer union is opposed by several major African states, including South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya.

They say regional economic integration is a more practical first step.

At a private meeting of heads of state late on Tuesday night, Col Gadaffi sat at the head of a large table insisting that his pet project went ahead immediately.

But other leaders said it simply would not work and would just add another layer of bureaucracy, which the continent does not need.

I caught a glimpse of this private meeting by looking through a window on a fire escape, but I withdrew when I thought security guards might arrive and object.


A normally reliable source inside the private meeting told me that Col Gadaffi tried hard to push his case but that almost everyone else in the room spoke against a fast-track approach.

The colonel then appeared to admit defeat, my source said, and laid his head on the table in despair.

The next thing those of us waiting outside saw was the rather eccentrically-mannered Libyan leader sweep out of the room.

He was accompanied by his eccentrically dressed protocol man, who has a uniform like that of an airline pilot, but with more gold braid.

"You can all go home to sleep now," the protocol man shouted at us reporters.

But we couldn't. We had to get more details on the "fudge".

Gaddafi factor

The "compromise", as African diplomats delicately put it, is that the African Union will change its name to include the word "Authority".

A study will be made to assess the legal implications of a United States of Africa, and then there will be a new meeting in three months.

In other words, the ball would be kicked into the long grass to slow it down.

As things stand, it looks like Col Gadaffi may have been defeated this time around.

But none of the African presidents is likely to say that outright.

Col Gadaffi is the leader of an oil-rich state on a poor continent.

No-one wants to make him too angry.

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